9/15/2012 7:00 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent
3 With Va. Ties Named <\n>to Romney Campaign Coalition
Three men with close ties to Virginia agriculture were named last month to the Mitt Romney campaign’s Farmers and Ranchers for Romney Coalition.
Congressman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation, and John Johnson, vice president for strategic administration with the National Pork Board, were among about 80 farmers, government officials and agriculture policy experts named to the coalition.
All three of them told Lancaster Farming that government regulations are among the biggest current challenges to American agriculture. (Bauhan and Johnson both emphasized that their comments reflect personal views and were not made in any capacity for either the Romney campaign or their employers.)
“Right now, there is too much unnecessary and costly federal regulation,” said Bauhan in an email. “In many cases, these regulations go beyond the authority granted by Congress and are based on activists’ emotionally charged agendas rather than sound science and economic impact analysis.”
Johnson is former president of the Virginia Poultry Federation who later worked for the Virginia Farm Bureau and then served as deputy administrator for farm programs with the USDA’s Farm Service Industry.
“There’s a clear track record with the Obama administration of heavy-handed regulation that would adversely impact agriculture from child labor, to water quality, to livestock contracts,” he said.
Goodlatte also said that government regulation impedes economic growth for farmers and “unfairly targets rural America.”
Johnson also criticized the Obama administration’s record with promoting foreign trade, which represents the biggest growth potential for American farmers. He noted that the current administration has not initiated any new free trade agreements over the past four years, while Europe and China have both aggressively pursued opening new export markets for their own farmers. (A free-trade agreement with Colombia, Panama and South Korea signed in 2011 was primarily negotiated under the Bush administration.)
“Romney-Ryan would be far more aggressive on trade,” Johnson said.
All three men also voiced support for a waiver of the federal ethanol mandate that is a primary reason that corn prices have risen to record levels and significantly affected Virginia’s livestock industry.
“Biofuels have a place in America’s quest for energy independence, but we must also make sure these policies do not force us to choose fuel over food,” said Goodlatte, in an email, adding that he is hopeful the EPA will waive this year’s requirement.
The 2012 federal renewable fuel standard calls for blending 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol into other fuels this year, an amount widely estimated to consume 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop. With severe drought affecting much of the country, however, overall harvest is now projected to be the smallest since 2006.
“In a matter of months, the worst drought in 50 years has decimated the U.S. corn crop and increased the cost of feeding Virginia livestock and poultry by more than $330 million,” Bauhan said. “This is a severe economic blow that threatens the livelihoods of farmers and processors A waiver of the ethanol mandate is needed immediately.”
Johnson noted that corn growers supported the waiver provision when the ethanol mandate was established, rhetorically asking what conditions would justify a waiver if the 2012 drought does not.
The EPA is now in a 30-day public comment period on a proposed ethanol mandate waiver.
Looking toward the future, Goodlatte and Bauhan both identified technological innovation and increasing efficiency as promising trends for American farmers. Johnson also noted that steady growth in trade with existing partners are an encouraging sign, and good reason to push for further, aggressive expansion of international trade.
Bauhan also said that a proposed rule being considered by the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service that would modernize poultry slaughter inspection is a successful recent example of federal agriculture policy.
“Reasonable regulatory policies are possible when agencies look at science-based facts and employ solid cost-benefit analysis,” he said. “We need to see this approach more often.”